Thursday, December 8th, 2016

Overcoming fear on school choice

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Last week at the MacIver Institute I wrote how some Republican state senators are giving in to the scare-mongering regarding the expansion of school choice. Their fears are misplaced.

Critics, such as state Senator Luther Olsen, complain that the increase in funding for private educational vouchers is more than the increase for public schools. That is incorrect. State funding for public schools would increase by $129 million. The school voucher increase would only cost the state an additional $73 million, underscoring what a bargain the voucher program is educationally.

School choice expansion opponents are basing their claim that voucher students are getting more money on figuring the increase on a per student basis. In that sense, students receiving educational vouchers are getting more of an increase. But that’s because they start at a much lower amount at $6442. Wisconsin will still be spending over $11,300 per pupil (according to the latest census figures) for public education when we are spending at a minimum 31% less per student for private school vouchers.

Furthermore, educational choice expansion opponents undermine their own arguments by using per student numbers. They are reminding the public that state expenditures on a per pupil basis are done that way because the goal of the state money is to educate children. We don’t count school buildings in a district; we count children and allocate the state’s resources accordingly.

Which is another reason State Senator Terry Moulton’s position on school choice is so perplexing. Moulton recently told a group of local school board members from his district that he opposes putting the expansion of private school choice in the state budget.
According to the Chippewa Herald, Moulton supposedly claimed he wanted the school choice provision out of the state budget after he looked at the state constitution. In case Moulton is confused, he should know that the private school choice option is legal under the state constitution.

Furthermore, when roughly a third of the state budget is education spending, there is no justification for keeping how those education dollars are spent out of the state budget. Moulton and his fellow legislators have a responsibility to determine where that money is spent. Otherwise, why are they bothering to craft a budget?

But what’s really disappointing about Moulton’s response to the local educators is that he did not even tell them none of their districts are being considered for the expansion of school choice. Not the Chippewa Falls district, not the Eau Claire school district, and not the Altoona school district. Why is Moulton catering to these scare tactics by people determined to defend the educational status quo?

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